Understanding the role of demographic diversity on dynamics and structure of food webs
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How does the diversity of animals affect the properties of the systems in which they interact (food webs)? This is a fundamental question in ecology. The answer to this question is urgently needed as we are currently rapidly losing the diversity in the natural systems due to changes in environmental conditions. Despite this urgency, our understanding of the relationships among the diversity, how organisms interact with each other in the system (structure), and how the structure changes over time is still limited. Earlier studies argued that the diversity should increase the stability of communities. Contrary to this prediction, a mathematical model in a later study suggested that the diversity should reduce the stability. Since these earlier works, numerous observational and modelling work has been conducted. However, no clear consensus has been reached on this topic to date.The main objective of this study is to re-evaluate existing concepts in community dynamics using a mathematical model that incorporates more realistic species interactions and complexity in how populations regulate themselves. The results will be compared with observed food webs, which will include wildlife and fish populations in Texas and other parts of the US. The food web model will also be coupled with an economic model to understand the feedback between human behavior and natural systems. The final product of the proposed project will be a guideline for the conservation and management of animal populations incorporating feeding and other interactions.Through this project, PI will attempt to improve the way natural animal populations are managed in Texas and the other parts of the U.S. by improving the understanding of the role of diversity on the resilience of ecological systems. The outcome of the research is also expected to help fish and wildlife managers to implement ecosystem-based management, thereby, improving the productivity of exploited populations as well as the sustainability of threatened species.